Part 1—A true journalistic disgrace: Over the weekend, the Washington Post was at it again.
It was doing the thing the Post does best. The Washington Post was peddling Rhee. This newspaper simply won’t stop.
The paper’s most visible pimping of Rhee appeared at the top of Sunday morning’s front page. Lindsey Layton offered a 2100-word profile of the former chancellor of the DC schools.
As she started her piece, Layton fawned, kissed keister, bowed and scraped. She announced a sacred claim: Rhee has become a celebrity!
We’ll include both headlines, as they appeared in our hard-copy Post:
LAYTON (1/13/13): Rhee embraces education celebrity/Just so you’ll know, Rotherham sat on the Virginia state school board in 2006, when we uncovered a statewide scam concerning school-by-school test scores.
Ex-schools chancellor left D.C. two years ago to start national movement
In camera-ready red, Michelle Rhee started the week on the set of MSNBC's "Morning Joe." The next night, she was the subject of an hour-long documentary on "Frontline." In several weeks, she'll tour the country to promote her new memoir, "Radical."
In the two years since her short and stormy tenure as chancellor of the District's public schools, Rhee has transformed herself into an education celebrity, the likes of which the country hasn't seen before.
"There is no one else in this space who can command attention like she can," said Andrew J. Rotherham, a former Clinton administration official who now runs Bellwether Education, a nonprofit group that works to improve education for low-income students. "She has star power. People in the business call it a Q score. . . . For an issue like education, definitely a second-tier issue, that's no small thing."
Rhee has created a political organization, StudentsFirst, that gives her a national platform. In just six years, she has rocketed from obscurity to the kind of fame that turns heads at the airport.
Eventually, the chairman of the state school board acknowledged that this scam had occurred (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 3/23/06). But so what? Even though Virginia is part of the Washington Post’s local news beat, the Post never reported any part of this sad and startling story. Needless to say, the career liberal world just stared into space and tugged on its wieners too.
Back to yesterday’s front page: Layton went on and on in a profile which veered from fawning to fair; she skipped various awkward facts while dealing in the standard piddle which defines our discussion of public schools. In fairness to Rhee, we very much doubt that she believes the second part of this piddle:
LAYTON: Rhee embodies one extreme in the debate over public education. She believes that every child can achieve, regardless of conditions such as poverty, broken homes, underfunded schools. In her view, the main obstacles are weak teachers, bloated bureaucracies, union contracts. She is driven by data, convinced that learning and teaching can be measured with as much certainty as a dieter tracks progress on a bathroom scale.Does Rhee really believe “that learning and teaching can be measured with as much certainty as a dieter tracks progress on a bathroom scale?” Almost surely, no—she does not. On the other hand, Rhee does tend to promote the meaningless piddle with which Layton started that passage—the utterly fatuous, low-IQ claim that “every child can learn.”
(Obviously, “every child can learn,” but the claim has no meaning whatever. How much can various individual children learn? How much can they learn this year—and how can we help them learn it? These are the serious questions confronting folk in our public schools. Propagandists like Rhee brush past them, helped by fuzzy scriveners.)
The Post peddled Rhee at the top of page one. But the more disgraceful selling of Rhee was found inside the paper’s weekend editions, starting on the editorial page of Saturday’s Post.
As usual, the editors were peddling Rhee, this time in a large, photo-festooned editorial. Once again, we’ll include both headlines.
As it turns out, those headlines were just a bit slick:
WASHINGTON POST EDITORIAL (1/12/13): Passing yet another test/A federal investigation finds no cheating by D.C. schoolsThere’s little shame when the Washington Post sits down to peddle some Rhee.
Add the Education Department and the District's U.S. Attorney to the list of those who have found no evidence that D.C. school officials engaged in widespread cheating on state exams. Their findings support the conclusion that emerged from previous investigations: There is no reason to think that systematic cheating was responsible for the improvements in student test scores recorded during the tenure of Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee.
The Education Department's Office of Inspector General said Monday that its investigation, conducted in tandem with an inquiry by the D.C. inspector general, found no large-scale cheating on standardized tests from 2008 to 2010...
In that headline, readers were told that a federal probe “f[ound] no cheating by D.C. schools.” But wouldn’t you know it? In those first few paragraphs, we find claims which are much more nuanced:
That probe found no cheating by DC schools? Not quite! As it turns out, the federal probe found no evidence that school officials engaged in widespread cheating, the editors wrote. Three qualifications can be found in just that opening sentence! As we read on, we find that there is no reason to think that there was systematic cheating. There was no large-scale cheating, we are told.
As usual, the actual claims were nuanced. Those headlines were big and bold.
As the editors continued, so did the peddling; they made a fuzzy but pleasing claim about the progress in federal test scores achieved under Chancellor Rhee. And sure enough! A similar claim appeared in yesterday’s Post, as Richard Whitmire, a Rhee biographer, continued his long campaign in support of his subject.
Hard-copy headline: “Michelle Rhee had her flaws, but cheating wasn’t one of them.”
As with Saturday's editorial, so too with Whitmire’s piece: Readers of these pieces were told that verifiable test scores rose under Rhee, in “unique,” “significant” ways. But how accurate are those claims? In none of this weekend’s three reports about Rhee did anyone present any actual test scores to help us judge what these upbeat claims might actually mean.
Whitmire and the editors claim that Rhee produced impressive, credible test score gains. In her 2100-word profile, Layton is more agnostic, although she basically ducks this question. But as usual, no one bothers to tell you what the federal test scores actually say.
How did those test scores change under Rhee? Post readers simply weren’t told!
You live in a largely stage-managed world—a world which is serviced by a Pravda-like upper-class press corps. In part, the manufacture of your consent in driven along by the career liberal world—by scriveners who agree not to tell you how much you’re not being told.
That said, what is the truth about DC’s test scores? How much did those federal test scores actually change under Rhee? We’ll examine that question all week as we limn the way you're sold the dreams which now bear a famous name.
Tomorrow: A look at the claims—and the record